LLRC Journal Radioactive Times. Vol.4 No 1

Trial of Helen John

Report from Radioactive Times Volume 4, Number 1, June 2000 (content not updated)

Helen John, 62, a retired midwife and long term peace activist was tried at Middlesex Crown Court, Westminster on 15th December. She was charged with criminal damage after painting information about the dangers of Depleted Uranium, Star Wars and Trident on the St Stephen’s entrance to the House of Commons on 15th September. Ms John said,
When others or ourselves are in great danger, it is reasonable to use whatever means neccesary to fully alert those who are in a position to ameliorate this danger. In fact, everyone aware of such danger has the duty to raise the alarm, just as one has the duty to break glass, if neccessary, to raise the alarm in the event of fire.

The defence case was that the owner of the building damaged would have given their consent had they known the complete circumstances informing the act. The Judge, who was not sympathetic, tried quite hard to exclude witnesses who might inform the jury about these circumstances. He argued that the prosecution were prepared to concede that Ms John genuinely felt that these circumstances i.e the immorality of using Depleted Uranium weapons or deploying mass weapons of destruction were sufficient for her acts. However, Helen’s barrister, Clare Wade argued forcefully that the jury needed to know if the accused’s beliefs were plausible. The first obstacle was to decide who owned the House of Commons. Once this was broadly established the several witnesses gave evidence.

Tony Benn, MP said that he had known Helen for many years and believed that what she had done was justifiable. MPs and Ministers, he said, were not fully informed about dangers, particularly nuclear ones. In this area, he said, there was considerable secrecy, and no one seemed to be aware of the facts. When asked by the judge for an example, he stated that he himself, when a Minister, was only informed of the Windscale fire by the Japanese Prime Minister on a visit to that country.

Felicity Arbuthnot, journalist, gave the Court first-hand, harrowing details of the effects of Depleted Uranium in Iraq.

Chris Busby gave a comprehensive account of the evidence that Depleted Uranium was the cause of the increases in cancer and childhood deformities in Iraq, and also a cause of the Gulf War syndrome in the Gulf veterans.

He was able to show the Court details of a report leaked from the US Army Range in Maryland which tabulated levels of Uranium dust in the air following use of a DU shell against a target. ‘This level was illegal in the UK,’he said, ‘At Aldermaston, the statutory level is less that a quarter of this.’

Other witnesses included Alice Mahon MP and Alan Simpson MP.

The jury found Helen John guilty of the act but justified in performing it. The judge was forced to release her. This is a landmark case but its outcome was not reported in the national media.

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